October 3, 2007 Jill

I watched the second episodes of both Reaper (written by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas) and Chuck (written by Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz) last night. I thought they both suffered from the same problem. Both have solid franchises and lots of charm. Both have the funny down pat. But I think they’re both floundering story wise.

In Chuck, we picked up where the last episode ended with Chuck adjusting to the new life and he and his two new secret agent cohorts still negotiating their deal. When a mystery-of-the-week finally began to emerge, Casey and Sarah became the suspects and Chuck bounced from believing one to believing the other.

In Reaper, the mystery-of-the-week — or more accurately in this case, monster-of-the-week — emerged early with the appearance of the box from the Devil. But Sam spent at least half the episode rejecting the mission and trying to get rid of the box instead of opening it and finding the monster.

I feel cheated. I think the pilots of both series promised us that we would see our loser/nerds turned heroes go out and save the world. The pilots were about setting up the premise. We get it. We don’t need another set up episode. Let’s get to the main event. Dr Evil

I don’t want to see Reaper’s Sam rejecting his mission. I want to see him catch weird and wacky monsters.

I don’t want to Chuck to waste his weekly spy mission time suspecting Sarah and Casey. I want to know what kind of spy missions he’s going to tackle — I’m expecting some fun villains in the tradition of Get Smart and Austin Powers. But I don’t know if that’s really who the bad guys will be two episodes in.

Both shows could to be running two storylines in tandem: a case-of-the-week and a personal story for the lead.

This week, Chuck allowed the two storylines to become entwined. Keep them separate. Chuck can still suspect Sarah and Casey and also pursue a romance with Sarah, but he needs to be embroiled in a funny and exciting episodic plot as well.

Reaper was a little closer to the two story model, but the stories didn’t run side by side. The plotlines about whether Sam should tell his mom and whether he’d get a date with Andy were like bookends at the top and tail of the show. And way too much screen time was spent playing the same “I’m not going to do it” beat as Sam refused his call to action.

You can’t refuse the call to action. That’s the show.

Ditto for making Sarah and Casey the suspects in Chuck. Yes, they are suspect, but that show is about trying to save the world when you can’t trust the people at your side.

Let’s hope they get to the actual series next week. I really do understand the premise. I like it. I want them to deliver it now.

Comments (10)

  1. Rae

    I had less of a problem with Chuck’s rehashing because at least we didn’t have too much time for Chuck to really get into Chuck not trusting either Sarah or Casey in the first episode. With Reaper, though, I felt like I was just watching an alternate pilot. Once you face down a fire demon, don’t you get over wondering if this is really happening to you and whether you can get out of it?

    I guess my question for you is whether this is something shows are asked to do? Ken Levine had
    a post today about the second episodes of shows and the various audiences to which they are catering
    and, as I read your post and realized that this is something I’ve seen in a few different shows this season, I wondered if it’s something networks want more these days or if it’s because of the distance when the pilot and the second episode are written?

    PS: You wrote, “Chuck can still suspect Sarah and Casey and also pursue a romance with Casey…” Was that intentional? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Seeing him pursue a romance with Casey would no doubt be funnier.

  2. Scott

    I thought Chuck’s second episode was very poorly written. The back and forth, who’s bad and who’s evil. The whole episode seemed very weak, and forced.

  3. Great analysis and agree with most points…and have to also agree with Rae in that there is probably an element of the time between shooting of pilot and actually going to series production to factor in here. Fingers crossed for ep 3.

  4. admin

    RAE –

    I don’t know what the networks are demanding, but it didn’t work for me. And I’m going to fix the Casey typo now. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Ben S.

    I understand why the “Chuck” team decided to go with the ‘should I trust her or should I not’ storyline so quickly.

    The way that I see it is that they were between a rock and a hard place with that one. If Chuck, Casey, and Sarah go out on a few world saving adventures they’re going to end up saving each other’s lives multiple times. After they’ve saved each other’s lives a couple of times it’s going to be hard for the viewer to believe that personal loyalty wouldn’t stop them from killing each other in cold blood unless there is heavy foreshadowing to the opposite. So it makes sense that you need to have the “can I trust them” storyline early. And, sure enough, they’ve started the foreshadowing that Casey could kill Chuck already, just to keep up that tension.

    Still, that doesn’t forgive how boring and clunky the episode was. The forced plotting (oh, a highly trained NSA agent has never considered deducing a getaway route!) and dues ex machinas (the helicopter flies just like the video game!) stretched credibility too far. I found myself thinking things like, “How did the pal get to the store before with the nano-bot trackers first? Wasn’t he at the house when they left?” When I’m having those ‘refrigerator thoughts’ during the show it’s not a good sign.

    Unless I heard great things about later episodes I’m not coming back to Chuck.

    Reaper has a tension problem too. A show where, right off the bat, the main character gets just the super weapon he needs to win, lacks a certain drama. They acknowledged this when the toy car got run over, but instead of having Sam figure out a new way to capture the monster, it turned out he never needed the car.

    Incidentally, was I the only one who was hoping he was going to use the remote control to take the possessed Prius to the Post Office to drop off the evil spirit and then have to explain to his dad why his new car was in Hell?

    Repear provided just enough chuckles I’ll stick around for one more week, but I agree with you. More jokes and monster fights, less angst.

  6. admin

    I think that the who-can-I-trust tension is built into the Chuck premise because we know what Chuck doesn’t know — that Sarah was romantically involved with renegade Bryce Larkin and that CAsey killed him. So no matter how many times they save Chuck, they will always be suspect in viewers’ minds. And even if they felt the need to do explore this more, it could have been done in a plot separate from the episode of the week. I think the episode really suffered from lack of story lines.

    As to refrigerator thoughts: as soon as he got into that helicopter, I thought, he’s a video game afficionado, he knows how to fly this thing. I was very disappointed that Sarah had to talk him down and remind him that he could fly it. I wanted to see a little heroism from Chuck.

  7. Muffin MacGuffin

    I definitely agree that too much time was spent on the Sam-rejecting-his-mission plot, but I think there may have been something larger at work here. Right before he captures the electric monster, he tries to reason with him. I think we may see Sam looking for alternate methods of containment, possibly something that will backfire in a big way later.

  8. I have to say that I’m liking REAPER much more than CHUCK. I still can’t get over the hurdle of CHUCK’S premise – that he has all this inteligence inside his head that he can access and link together. The problem with that is all intelligence (data gathering as well as coordinating data) has an extremely short shelf-life. Intelligence changes as more of it comes into play. Are they going to keep downloading info into Chuck? The tag at the end of the show says not – they’re building his replacement…

    But 6 months? By that time all the cockroaches will have crawled into their hidey-holes and disappeared.

    This is all very slipshod IMO…

  9. admin

    I loved Reaper on the page and preferred the Chuck pilot. When I watched the second episodes, I liked Reaper better until he refused to open the box for so long.
    I think Reaper has the better premise and Chuck has the better casting and supporting characters. I think the leads in both shows are great, but Chuck has a better sidekick in Morgan than Sam has in Sock. And they both need great villains and maybe we’ll have a show (or two).

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